Live-blogging Midmorning: Your travel-by-air stories

If there’s a “tipping point” for gas prices (the price at which you change your driving habits), is there a “tipping point” for flying on an airline? If so, what is it?

Higher fares, a slew of tacked-on fees, flights that are late and crowded are the new standard in the airline industry. Does it make a difference?

I’ll be live-blogging in the studio with Kerri Miller on Wednesday’s first hour of Midmorning. Most of the time, Midmorning asks me when they want me to blog their show. This time, I asked them. The guests are: George Hobica, creator of Airfarewatchdog.com; Joe Schwieterman: professor of public service management at DePaul University; and Tammy Lee: Vice president for communications at Northwest Airlines.

And you.

I sense a pent-up desire to tell the airlines a thing or two, and to tell a few stories about your experience — good and bad.

That’s where the “comments” section below comes in. Let’s start talking about this now, so that by Wednesday at 9, we’ll have something to tell our radio friends.

9:02 a.m. – It occurred to me while getting ready for today’s shows that I hear the word Northwest Airlines and blames in the same sentence quite often. A Google search reveals, for example:

  • Northwest blames high oil prices….
  • Northwest blames pilots…
  • Northwest blames speculators…

    9:09 a.m. Hobica is up first. He’s in Boston on business and took the train to get there. He says the only reason people fly in the Northeast Corridor now is to get frequent flyer miles, which are tougher to spend.

    9:11 a.m. Hobica says the stock market has been propping up “the ridiculously low airfares.” This is why airlines are “cutting capacity,” creating a shortage of available seats. Kerri asks why nickel-and-dime instead of raising fares? “They think demand will drop off,” Hobica says. He also says the industry has been mismanaged since deregulation, so “what’s new?”

    9:14 a.m. Just reading Hobica’s blog. Says airlines, having created an unpleasant experience, are now selling travel insurance to guard against such things.

    9:17 a.m. Milan from Mankato calls. Flew for TWA for 50 years. “Given what airlines are charging, airlines are losing their shirts. Airlines have to increase fares by 20 to 30% but people won’t pay it.”

    9:19 a.m. — Cirrus (and I wrote about this a week ago) is depending on the current situation to market its VLJ (very light jet) business. Hobica just uttered the party line when it comes to general aviation (note: I’m not objective on this) by recommending private jets start paying for ‘clogging up the skies.’ In other words, airlines have something else to blame, now. What do private pilots say? They say “we’re paying taxes to support the air traffic control system (via fuel taxes), so why can’t we use it?”

    9:25 a.m. Just read comments from Mary L. and Larry in comments below. And yours? Where’s yours?

    9:26 Delta will charge $80 for certain bags each way. Hobica sends his luggage via UPS to his hotel. Cheaper. You can find a chart that compares the cost of doing this here.

    9:29 a.m.- Caller Diane flew in from St. Louis. Plane delayed for an hour, missed connection in Chicago. Ticket agents were surly. “Ticket agent said, ‘look, all this crying for nothing.’” Hobica says “we’re impoverished in this country when it comes to consumer protection.” How much do the airlines worry about customer satisfaction? Southwest has very good policies, Hobica says. It’s the older legacy carriers that are “ruining it for the reputation of the airlines.”

    Survey of the Day

    This is as good a time as any for today’s survey.


    .. and now back to the show…

    Joining the show now is Tammy Lee, a spokeswoman for Northwest and Joe Schwieterman: professor of public service management at DePaul University.

    9:38 a.m. — “We’re in survival mode here,” Tammy Lee says. She ran for Congress a couple of years ago. Does being the spokesperson for an airline ruin a political career? Just wondering.

    9:39 a.m. — People appreciate the fees as opposed to simply raising the fares across the board. Is that true? You tell me.

    Observations for free: People seem more upset by poor service than higher fees.

    9:41 a.m. – Why not just raise air fares? “We can’t get them to stick,” Lee says.

    9:44 a.m. I just read Erik’s comment on service. Tammy Lee says the competitive advantage is the “service experience.”

    “Ultimately, at the end of the day, the customer is going to flock to the lowest price. If they get there safely, that’s all they care about.”

    Well, there it is in English. We don’t CARE about the attitude we have, because you’ll put up with it if you save a buck.

    Sun Country tested this theory in a recent marketing campaign. Does it work?

    9:47 a.m. “When you choose between survival and service, survival wins,” Tammy Lee says. I’m immediately reminded of the the story of how a small hardware store in Brattleboro Vermont ran Home Depot out of town

    9:50 a.m. – Schwieterman says there’s a future for Southwest in the Twin Cities. He says that airline is starting to compete head-to-head more with “the big boys.”

    9:53 a.m. – Advice from a guest. Get rid of your frequent flyer credit card and ge a cash-back card. You have to pay an $80 fee and now you’re paying more to cash in the miles.

    Last word on fares We’ve been tracking the cost of a ticket to Midway from Minneapolis St. Paul for the last few months. Today, it’s going for $496.75, and that doesn’t include the fees. In March, it was $114 (there was a competing airline flying the route, then).